Santa Barbara | Ranch owners fight legislation that gives the government unfettered access to private, sensitive coastal land and potentially punishes owners for defending their way of life

Case Status: Active: Federal lawsuit filed to protect private ranch property and a unique way of life

Hollister Ranch, California, is widely known for its 150 years as a working cattle ranch and for its biologically significant coastal habitat spread across miles of shoreline downcoast of California’s Point Conception. Over the years, the ranch has carefully restricted development and activity on its 14,400 acres in order to protect the existing environment and traditional rural western lifestyle and culture while fostering strategic public, educational, and scientific access. A new state law, however, threatens to eliminate the ranch’s right to privacy and will upend longtime conservation efforts, destroying a host of constitutional rights in the process. To protect their privacy, property rights, the environment, and coastal resources and to uphold existing constitutional rights, Hollister Ranch property owners are calling attention to this unfair legislation.

Hollister Ranch dates back to 1869, when William Hollister and his family began using their land for cattle ranching. It has been a working cattle ranch ever since, producing about a million pounds of beef each year. Today, the ranch’s 14,400 acres in Santa Barbara County are sparsely developed, with about 100 homes on large, subdivided parcels of agriculturally zoned land.

The zoning, along with the ranch’s own restrictions on development, access, and other activities, enables “free-range” cattle ranching and provides habitat for owners seeking space and peace and for a wide range of species such as black bear, mountain lion, deer, bobcats, and raptors.

Hollister Ranch includes approximately 8.5 miles fronting the California coast, characterized by rocky shorelines, intermittent sandy beaches, creeks, steep bluffs, and rolling hillsides—a unique setting in Southern California. Because human activity on the shore is minimal, tide pools on the ranch’s shoreline are among the least disturbed of any in Southern California.

A new state law, AB 1680, threatens this way of life, however, by giving a number of state agencies the right to enter and search the ranch at will in an effort to figure out how to foist public access on the private ranch lands, and by giving these agencies the right to punish anyone who seeks to “delay” or “impede” this effort. The law, which took effect January 1, 2020, is the latest twist in a decades-long effort by the California Coastal Commission and others to force Hollister Ranch to allow the general public to use and access its private property.

The ranch was not opposed to early versions of the law that encouraged the State to work with ranch officials to create additional opportunities for public access at the ranch. But the law was amended in the final days of the 2019 legislative session, without hearings or debate, and ultimately gave state agents the right to invade the ranch property at will and the power to fine and punish any “action” that the government believes may get in the way of the mission to impose access on the ranch.

AB 1680 specifically allows state agents to search and inspect the ranch’s property, including employee houses, barns, and other structures, without permission or warrants. It also allows state officials to use the ranch-maintained roads at their discretion to carry out the mission of searching and cataloging the ranch land that the State may want to donate to the public for beach access.

The ranch understandably fears that such state efforts may damage its property and natural environment and that the State may ultimately take the ranch’s land, perhaps without compensation. But AB 1680 also declares that any “action” that ranch owners take to impede, delay, or otherwise obstruct the State’s efforts violates the California Coastal Act and is potentially punishable by a fine of up to $22,500 per day. The law accordingly threatens and chills the ranch owners from speaking out, litigating, or publishing about their property issues, or from video-recording state activities on their property, for fear that this may be an “action” that violates the Coastal Act under the new law.

To protect their way of life and the ranch’s unique environment, ranch property owners have no choice but to defend themselves from AB 1680’s unprecedented and unfair provisions. Represented free of charge by PLF and on behalf of its property-owning members, the Hollister Ranch Owners’ Association is challenging the law—and its numerous constitutional violations—in a federal lawsuit.


  • Government cannot authorize unwarranted property invasion and searches, property takings without compensation, and crushing financial penalties—violating three constitutional protections in one law.
  • If California allows unconstitutional searches of property like Hollister Ranch, no one’s property is safe.



January 16, 2020DOWNLOAD



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Pacific Legal Foundation, America’s most powerful ally for justice, litigates in courts nationwide for limited government, property rights, individual liberty, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations.  PLF represents all clients free of charge.

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4 Responses to Santa Barbara | Ranch owners fight legislation that gives the government unfettered access to private, sensitive coastal land and potentially punishes owners for defending their way of life

  1. David Puu July 10, 2020 at 9:05 am

    The Coastal Commission is behind all manner of what tends to be criminal activity. Look at their affiliates and you will find monied NGOs. Trek deeper and you will find UN mandates tying it all together.

    The joint modus tends to arise as an attempt to leverage out essential Liberty, and in some cases presents itself as a Human Rights assault.

    Communism 101 that the Ca Public pays for.

    Just defund the CCC, in order to retain private property rights and stop the asset seizure-land grab process.

  2. Donna July 8, 2020 at 5:31 pm

    This is what Government does, it takes rights to private property look at Vail and Vickers Ranch on Santa Rosa Island… oh wait they are no longer there are they. To much latitude and not enough oversight, we need to stop these encroachments on property rights before it happens to wceryone!!

  3. William Hicks July 8, 2020 at 3:31 am

    Here’s a piece of land that, for all intents and purposes, fulfills the spirit of Ventura County’s SOAR (Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources) policy put into law. Maybe Santa Barbara should consider such legislation.

  4. Dan Roatcap July 6, 2020 at 9:46 am

    I wish you the best of all possible outcomes of protecting the ranch and coastal areas. Taking the ruggedness allowing hoards of people to trample will ruin it’s uniqueness. Democratic leadership only pretends to protect land owners and their needs, but just like criminal will renege on promises made. Follow the money trail and clearly somebody is pulling the $ strings of corrupt politicians. I’m not an environmentalist, I’m an old farmer that knows this way of life and how unique it is.


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